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JPEG Patent Challenged 278

ChocLinux writes "The Public Patent Foundation has filed a request at the US Patent Office to revoke Compression Labs' data compression patent, which it is reportedly using to harrass anyone that implements the JPEG format. 'CLI's aggressive assertion of the '672 patent is causing substantial public harm by threatening this international standard on which the public relies,' says Pubpat in its filing."
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JPEG Patent Challenged

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  • by ian_mackereth ( 889101 ) on Thursday November 17, 2005 @10:40PM (#14059389) Journal
    then beware of geeks bearing GIFs.
    • Timeo danao et dona ferentes?
    • In all seriousness, at least all the ["valid"] GIF-related patents [in America] have expired. Too bad PNG has already come so far; the only use for GIFs now is animated smileys for Something Awful Forums.
  • by fz00 ( 466988 ) on Thursday November 17, 2005 @10:41PM (#14059397) Homepage
    Who wasted time chasing this while nearly putting themselves out of business. How about focusing on some real products???
  • DONATE!! (Score:5, Insightful)

    by backslashdot ( 95548 ) on Thursday November 17, 2005 @10:42PM (#14059407)
    Get this patent overturned. It's extremely important to get these ridiculous technology stifling unoriginal patents overturned.

    Where the hell is EFF on this? Pubpatents is getting my money this year and I recommend you guys donate there as well if you are into donating to tech freedom.
    • Re:DONATE!! (Score:2, Insightful)

      by thebdj ( 768618 )
      20 yr old patent, that is due to expire next year. Yes donate your money for them to run off to kill an almost dead patent. This is probably why the EFF just doesn't care in this case, and the fact the EFF realizes the company is simply enforcing their rights to the patent under law.
      • Precedent, gentlemen, precedent.
      • Re:DONATE!! (Score:5, Insightful)

        by ChaosDiscord ( 4913 ) * on Friday November 18, 2005 @02:14AM (#14060522) Homepage Journal
        ...and the fact the EFF realizes the company is simply enforcing their rights to the patent under law.

        Why would the EFF care that they're "simply enforcing their rights"? A major part of the EFF's work is to fight things that may be technically legal, but are morally bankrupt. In some cases they can be fought in the courts by challenging the legality or interpretation of the law. In this particular case a major public standard is built on this patent. It was believed that there were no costs involved with implementing it; the patent was not known about. A decade went by without anyone complaining that it was infringing. Suddenly the owner can pop up and announce that he can shut down a standard used across the world by just about anyone with a computer? Forgent is hardly "simply" enforcing their rights. They are knowingly attempting to blackmail major industries with a submarine patent. They're scum, they're abusing the law, and it would be appropriate for the EFF to be involved. There are many reasons the EFF might not be involved, including the imminent expiration you mentioned. But skipping this case because Forgent is technically within the letter of the law is not a reason.

    • "by threatening this international standard..." funny, since the US is one of the few countries to recognize sw patents appealing to "international" threats is quite rediculous. I also like how they don't give any reasons to invalidate the patent on typical patent grounds, it is just "we need this!!"
      • Re:DONATE!! (Score:3, Insightful)

        by trezor ( 555230 )

        Agreed. This is nothing more than a sligtly sophisticated form of "I want free JPEGs!!!1".

        You may argue against software patents as much as you like, say they are useless (and in my cases, you will find me agreeing) but even though JPEG and lossy compression may be obvious now it wasn't back then, when the only alternative were TIFF-files (with or without Gzip compression).

        Back then, JPEGs were awesome, amazing and got you p0rn faster over that old analog phoneline. JPEGs, if I may say, represents a

      • Re:DONATE!! (Score:3, Insightful)

        by aminorex ( 141494 )
        The constitutional justification for the issuance of patents is to promote the useful arts, which is a specific form of promotion of the public interest. If a patent is deleterious to the public interest and does not promote the useful arts, it is without justification, and should be voided.
  • They better not start suing the guys behind the GIMP, or I'll have PWN3D!!1 pictures of the CLI execs up here by cross-examination time. the much-less-encumbered PNG format of course.

  • by Woldry ( 928749 ) on Thursday November 17, 2005 @10:42PM (#14059409) Journal
    ... was the prior art in JPEG format?
  • Could it be? (Score:4, Insightful)

    by AxsDeny ( 152142 ) on Thursday November 17, 2005 @10:42PM (#14059412) Homepage Journal
    Is it possible that if JPEG patents were enforced we would actually persue the use a PNG (a significantly better format). As a web developer, if I could rely on people being able to see all the different derivations of PNG, life and design would be much easier.
    • Re:Could it be? (Score:2, Informative)

      by Anonymous Coward
      The problem with PNG is that it is much bigger than JPG for photographs. Many people are still using dialup to access the internet; PNG is too big.

      • Yes, png in usually the wrong choice for photgraphs from a file-size perspective.
            However it's been my observationg that people tend to make the reverse mistake, using JPEG for non phot-realistic images and both mucking them up AND creating a bigger file than png would create.
            Just check out almost any scanned cartoon/anime/ect. type image on the net.

    • Re:Could it be? (Score:2, Informative)

      by pingveno ( 708857 )
      I don't think PNG is necessarily "better" than JPEG. They're just for different purposes. JPEG is for lossy images, PNG is for lossless. Different requirements, different file formats.
    • Re:Could it be? (Score:3, Informative)

      by dacarr ( 562277 )
      Probably not, since PNG was a replacement for GIF. More likely, people would do the same thing, and develop a replacement format that is not entirely unlike JPEG.
    • FireFox supports PNG, and here's some IR behavior code for you CSS doc to make IE at least allow 32 bits (8x8x8x8) of data.

      <public:attach event="onpropertychange" for="element" onEvent="propertyChanged()" />
      <script language="JavaScript">
      var needHack = needHack();
      var transparentImage = "/shared/graphics/spacer.gif";

      function propertyChanged() {
      if (event.propertyName == "src")
    • That never works (Score:5, Insightful)

      by Wesley Felter ( 138342 ) <> on Friday November 18, 2005 @12:56AM (#14060171) Homepage
      We've seen this before.

      When RSA got popular and people realized that it was patented, there was a large effort to switch to DSA. Right about the time that all the pieces of DSA support were in place, the RSA patent expired so people just kept using RSA.

      When GIF got popular and people realized that LZW was patented, PNG was created. By the time PNG was actually supported more-or-less correctly in browsers, the LZW patent expired.

      I suspect if this JPEG madness keeps up, people will try to switch to JPEG 2000 (which is still patented, but at least the patent holders appear friendly). But it looks like the JPEG patent expires around 2007, which does not leave enough time to switch to anything.
  • by Anonymous Coward on Thursday November 17, 2005 @10:45PM (#14059427)
    Compression Lab Inc:

    "All your pr0n are belongs to us"
    • They can have it, but only if they look at it all, and in court. I have gigabytes of midget viking porn, and that's the tamest.

      "I would like to introduce Exhibit A, an image of an overweight woman being anally penetrated by a vietnam war amputee's leg stump. Pay special attention to his cartoon-style moose horns as well"
  • And go home compression labs!
  • Covered at Groklaw (Score:5, Informative)

    by bstadil ( 7110 ) on Thursday November 17, 2005 @10:48PM (#14059452) Homepage
    This is covered in details over at Groklaw []
  • Huffman? (Score:4, Insightful)

    by darrenf ( 746898 ) on Thursday November 17, 2005 @10:50PM (#14059466) Homepage
    FTFP (FTFPatent):
    "A method for processing digital signals, where the digital signals have first values, second values and other values, to reduce the amount of data utilized to represent the digital signals and to form statistically coded signals such that the more frequently occurring values of digital signals are represented by shorter code lengths and the less frequently occurring values of digital signals are represented by longer code lengths,..."

    Gee, where have I seen that before?
    • Hooray for patents with specific language. That covers everything but the kitchen sink (and that too I'm sure, if you open and shut its faucet in a signal-transmitting matter, and put something in the drain to monitor the code...).
    • Re:Huffman? (Score:3, Informative)

      Um, you do realize that the patent was filed in October 1986 and granted in October 1987, don't you? I actually don't see what the big deal is anyway. The patent term is set to expire soon - October 2006 if they filed under the current system. I assume that they filed under the current system since, if the old system of 17 years after the granting of the patent were in place at the time of filing, the patent would have already expired over a year ago.
      • I assume that they filed under the current system since, if the old system of 17 years after the granting of the patent were in place at the time of filing, the patent would have already expired over a year ago.

        U.S. patents are issued with a term of grant + 3.5 years. Three renewals are available: grant + 7.5 years, grant + 11.5 years, and the full term. For this and other U.S. patents subsisting as of mid-1996, when the Uruguay Round Agreements Act came into effect in the United States, the full term i

      • Um, you do realize that the patent was filed in October 1986 and granted in October 1987, don't you?

        The biggest irony in all this is that wavelet transforms were discovered in the early 1980's and have only been used in the computer software industry during the last ten years. Yet somehow, the patent covers a technique that was not even known to anyone in the computer industry at the time of filing. I somehow doubt that the applicant was a) aware of wavelets and b) understood the wavelet technique mathemat
    • Re:Huffman? (Score:3, Informative)

      by sr180 ( 700526 )
      But where does this non-obvious? This is standard coding theory. You could use morse code as a prior example. The more common letters were given shorter codes and the least common letters given longer codes. For example: A = .- Z= --..

      This is simply standard coding theory of at least 30 years of age applied to images. The theory wasnt designed for specifically text, but ANY signal that was to be sent. This section of the patent describes nothing of merit.

  • Potentially valid (Score:3, Insightful)

    by swordgeek ( 112599 ) on Thursday November 17, 2005 @11:01PM (#14059548) Journal
    If, and I say IF the patent is valid from a 'no prior art' and is not intuitively obvious, then the complaint is rather suspect.

    "The Public Patent Foundation ... also asks the US Patent Office to take notice of Compression Labs' "aggressive assertion" of its patent, which it says is causing substantial public harm."

    If the patent is valid and the public has used it regardless, then they are within their rights (legal and quite likely moral) to defend it.
  • Patent Sales (Score:3, Interesting)

    by triemer ( 569734 ) on Thursday November 17, 2005 @11:06PM (#14059571)
    The problem seems to arise when a patent is sold. It seems like the patent rules should be changed so that patent infringement can only apply when the original party filing the patent has been harmed. It makes sense to protect the inventor - that's what patents are for. The problem seems to arise when the party who is claiming infringement is not using the patent to generate revenue (excluding law suits). It seems like there should be a "minimum reasonable usage" clause in the patent law. By "minimum reasonable usage" means - you as a patent holder are using the patent in your livelihood or the corporations livelihood.
    • Selling patents is a good way to make money. You would limit inventors to only being able to license their patent; however, in the case of a really good patent, a large company may wish to pay a large sum of money to the small inventor in order to ensure they have the protection right guaranteed by the patent. This would also raise questions about how patent ownership would occur when companies are purchased. You must remember, the US is the only country that is part of the Patent Cooperation Treaty that
      • Why is it important to bring us "inline with the rest of the world"? Really. Why? Why should we stoop so low? (not that any one country is lower than the US - but take any conglomeration of countries and work with the lowest common denominator and you get just that - low)
  • by squidinkcalligraphy ( 558677 ) on Thursday November 17, 2005 @11:08PM (#14059587)
    This is dumb, and some would argue anti-competetive monopolistic behaviour. You have a patent on something cool. You let people use it without any royalties; it becomes popular. Really popular. Then, all of a sudden, you start charging royalties, and everyone is trapped. It would not have become that popular if royalties had been there in the first place.

    This is reminiscent of two things: Microsoft (slightly different modus operandi), and drug dealers (the first one's free kiddies).

    Should be that if you don't enforce your patent within a reasonable time frame, you lose the right to do so. In a perfect world. Which we are far, far, away from.
    • Should be that if you don't enforce your patent within a reasonable time frame, you lose the right to do so.

      As I understand it, you do lose the right to some remedies. Heard of the laches defense []? True, it's not as strict as the rule in trademark law, but having been trapped by a patent holder who has unfairly delayed taking any sort of legal action is still a recognized defense.

    • "Should be that if you don't enforce your patent within a reasonable time frame, you lose the right to do so."

      Agreed, or as an alternative automatic limitation: if a patent is included in an official international standard with either the consent of the patent-holder, or the justifiable ignorance of the standardizers (they did due dilligence, but it was a "submarine patent"), then the patent is invalidated. Meaning in other words, that if standardization was contemplated, patent holders would be forced to c
      • A good idea. The only problem that I can see is that the standards organisations are not governmentally sanctioned bodies. In most cases they are much better than that, being composed of competant engineers in their various fields. But being private organisations without the authority of a government, it may be difficult to grant them special powers wrt. patents. Obviously, you can't just allow any standards organisation to waltz in and swipe a patented idea, or you'll have "ed's assorted standards" sne
        • In most cases they are much better than that, being composed of competant engineers in their various fields.

          You must not have done any work with a standards setting body. I work with JEDEC on memory modules and, believe me, I'd much rather be working with the government. Those standards bodies are sponsored by companies who are competing against each other - each company wants its design adopted as the standard and don't think for a minute that we engineers are all that altruistic when it comes to selecti
      • I suspect companies would adopt an MPAA-style defense to that idea: If you don't let us patent standards, then we won't contribute anything to standards organizations.
        • The design intent of the algorithm is

          1. Force patent holders to reveal themselves when standards are being created.
          2. Force all standards to be patent-free.
          3. Entice the state of the art to track patent-free standards and starve patent-wielding companies.
          • I realize that it's deliberate, but if all the standards are only developed by grad students and hobbyists, then they might end up much weaker than the proprietary non-standard formats that they must compete against. That might lead to the standards being ignored in favor of proprietary stuff, which sounds like a worse result.
    • I agree (Score:3, Insightful)

      by Sycraft-fu ( 314770 )
      Patent law needs to be made like trademark law: Use it or lose it. Basically if you are going to patent something, you need to either exert that patent, or the patent should lose standing. I would say something like if you fail to contact a company for a period of 6 months after a product using your patented technology is marketed on a level that you should be reasonably aware of it, you lose your patent.

      So you are still protected, if someone is just developing something in secret, no problem, even if someo
  • by kahrytan ( 913147 ) on Thursday November 17, 2005 @11:41PM (#14059781)
    This type of stuff only reinforces the need to free software patents and helps the intiatives spearheaded at
  • PDFs also affected (Score:4, Interesting)

    by rfmobile ( 531603 ) on Thursday November 17, 2005 @11:43PM (#14059790) Homepage
    FWIW, Adobe's PDF includes embedded images using DCT or discrete cosine transform for compression. If you extract the image sections from the document, you end up with a JPEG file.
  • .... however it is copyrightable.

    Copyrights last alot longer.... infinity according to the changing of laws to extend then before they expire..

    Now the thing is, can you write an algorythim/program to do the same thing in such a manner that a picture compressed by it can be uncompressed by jpeg engines, without infringing upon the copyright?

    if you can't then....still do the right thing and oppose the fraud of software patents.
    • by Grendel Drago ( 41496 ) on Friday November 18, 2005 @12:40AM (#14060097) Homepage
      Copyrights and patents aren't two names for the same thing. Inventions can be patented; the creative expression of an idea can be copyrighted. The idea itself cannot; see Feist v. Rural [].
    • Software is indeed patentable. This was decided in the Diamond v. Diehr [] case over 20 years ago. Thousands of software patents have been granted since then, and the requirements have gotten weaker over that time. Whether they ought to be allowed is very debatable, but the fact of the law isn't.

      Secondly, copyright only applies to a specific work. If your work is not a direct modification of the other work then you are not infringing upon copyright. This happens all the time. WINE does not violate Windows cop

      • Software is indeed patentable. This was decided in the Diamond v. Diehr case over 20 years ago. Thousands of software patents have been granted since then, and the requirements have gotten weaker over that time. Whether they ought to be allowed is very debatable, but the fact of the law isn't.

        "Diamon v. Diehr" is only law in the US and does not apply to rest of the world, which is what I suspect the other poster is trying to say. The long term effects that software patents will have on our country's economy
  • threatening this international standard on which the public relies

    So, whatever is really liked by many can not belong to anyone and should be confiscated? So much for unreasonable ceasures...

    Gotta think of something better to say...

  • MPEG? (Score:2, Informative)

    Forgive me if I am wrong, but I went through the patent: Motion compensation, intraframes etc... isn't it the MPEG format we are talking about? JPEG is the static picture encoding format that is based on the cosin transform. MPEG also uses cosign transform but many other techniques among which motion compensation DPCM etc.
  • Was it obvious? (Score:5, Informative)

    by swthomas55 ( 904301 ) on Friday November 18, 2005 @12:09AM (#14059933)
    While many software patents are "patently" invalid because of obvious prior art, this one was not obvious to me at the time. Although, I was working in a related field (computer graphics), and not directly in data compression. I had colleagues who were in signal processing (and DCT is at base a signal processing application), and none of them said "oh, that's obvious".

    If you read the pubpatent filing, their main point is that an earlier patent, issued to the same company, is prior art for all the points in the '672' patent. The earlier patent was filed more than a year (plus one month) prior to the filing of the '672' patent, which makes it legally prior art.

    Anyway, the sucker has less than a year to run, as it was filed in October, 1986. Probably why the lampreys at Forgent are pushing so aggressively. It'll only be a cash cow for another 11 months.

    Interestingly, I could have been a target of Unisys, except they couldn't have gotten much blood from this stone. I was the original author of the "compress" program, which turned into an early "open source" effort (although the term hadn't been invented at the time). Compress was an implementation of LZW, based on Welch's 1984 paper in Computer. Only later was I informed that it was patented. After it had been incorporated into Berkeley Unix releases and into the GIF format. I was happy when that patent finally expired, but I had absolutely no doubt of its legitimacy.

    As for the claimed superiority of PNG over JPEG, I'd say it depends on the application. JPEG was designed precisely and specifically for the purpose of compressing photographic images. Such images

    • Do not compress well using techniques like LZW and Huffman coding
    • Have intrinsic variation in pixel values due to noise in the recording process
    • Don't have precisely straight and sharp edges
    These characteristics make them poorly suited to lossless compression techniques, and also mean that a lossy technique will not degrade the image further than the original noisy recording method did. (Unless you turn up the loss level too high.)

    Because of the "if you have a hammer, every problem looks like a nail" principle, people have used JPEG in applications that it's not suited for -- applications where the lossy compression DOES degrade the image quality, and where a different method (LZW, for example) would in fact give a smaller file. Then other people point at these examples and say "PNG (or GIF) is better than JPEG!" My toolbox has hammers, screwdrivers, wrenches, etc. I try to pick the appropriate tool, and don't hammer with a wrench, for example. The same should be true of our computer tools.

    • Perhaps it's obvious, perhaps it's off-topic, but in any case...thanks much for compress. That thing was truly cool contribution to the community. Can't say I missed pack for even a minute.

  • CLI's aggressive assertion ...

    I didn't know CLI [] has anything to do with JPEGs. I get pics in my CLI like this "cat ascii_art.txt".
  • Not that this is the right solution, but why don't they just apply the same logic go trademark as to patents: defend it or lose it. In this case, they didn't defend it in time. If this was a trademark issue they'd be out of luck: you can't just pop in years after it's become common usage and ask for it back.

  • People at the USPTO need to go to jail for granting patents like these. They are crippling, willfully, the US economy. A bad patent has all the effect of sinking an oil tanker, and the effects are longers lasting. We still don't have encrypted email because of the willful sabotage committed at the USPTO by granting the RSA patent.

    Throw a couple of examiners in jail. They'll read the next patent more thoroughly then.

    The primary examiner on the patent was Howard W. Britton. He was either incompetant, or willfully neglegent when he granted this patent. If I make a mistake this serious at my job, I can be held seriously accountable for it. So should Mr. Britton.

    I am in no way exaggerating or being sarcastic. In my honest opinion Britton deserves to go to jail for the damage he has done to the economy, and the disgrace he has brought on the entire patent system.
    • Or better yet, make the patent examiner financially liable for wrongfully issued patents. If it's overturned, the restitution costs and penalties come out of his paycheck. That would likely be a stronger threat than jailtime, and would also help reimburse those injured by bad patents.

"The whole problem with the world is that fools and fanatics are always so certain of themselves, but wiser people so full of doubts." -- Bertrand Russell